Marine General Lewis “Chesty” Puller reportedly once said that given an army of 18-year-olds he could conquer the world. The remark came during testimony in the famous court martial of Matthew McKeon, a Marine drill instructor who ill-advisedly led his young trainees into a swamp in which several of them died.
In 1968, Minnesota Sen. Eugene McCarthy applied those principles in mobilizing an army of 18- to 26-year-olds in an attempt to win the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination based on opposition to the Vietnam War. McCarthy failed, but not before giving his party’s establishment – including Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey – a severe headache.
The tendency of youth to follow the dictates of the left side of their hearts is a natural condition. Being liberal, or progressive (to use the current, popular label for those philosophical leanings), is a natural condition that Winston Churchill called a defining attribute of early age. If it sounds good, buy into it.
So it is not surprising that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has amassed a following of voters in the 18-to-30-year-old age range to make the Democratic presidential race against Hillary Clinton a very close contest. Actually, as has been pointed out over and over in this seemingly interminable squabble for the nation’s top job, tapping into this youthful energy with the help of social media is not unlike the approach that undid Clinton eight years ago.
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The same blind faith in Barack Obama’s promises to make huge changes for the better of the common man and the middle class that attracted the young to his cause is not only present in the Sanders’ campaign, it is the overwhelming force (free this and free that all provided by a benevolent government is hard to resist).
Obama’s appeal, of course, was bolstered by the opportunity to show the world that we had managed to overcome some of the stigma of racism by electing a black man as our chief executive.
Obama not only rode that to victory but managed in his first two years to bring about a major reformation in health care against the opposition of the entire Republican Party in Congress and a majority of Americans.
It was his signature achievement, but it cost him and his party enormous political capital, including control of the Congress. It also gave us the Tea Party.
The difference in the current race for the Democratic nomination is that while Obama’s approach touched the socialistic fringes, Sanders openly embraces the ideals of that philosophy. After years of being an “Independent,” he now calls himself a Democrat, Socialist Democrat or whatever is convenient depending on the hour. Take it from one who worked in the town that produced Eugene V. Debs, the icon of the American Socialist movement, Sanders is one.
In Sanders’ rhetoric, the moneyed class as represented by Wall Street is an evil empire; the billionaires should face drastic tax reform; the usurious, predatory banks need to be broken up; the middle class should take back the government; cradle-to-grave health care in the form of a single-payer plan should be adopted and private insurance eliminated; there should be free college education for everyone and on and on.
But who pays for all this, Senator? Answer: Admittedly there must be a tax increase. Right! A big one. Is this America or …
Standing in a museum gift shop in Copenhagen a number of years ago, my clerk was a neatly dressed gray-haired man, clearly of retirement age. When I asked him why he was still working he explained that he actually was retired from SAS, the airline, but if he wanted to take his wife out to dinner once a month, he needed supplemental income.
“My pension is good,” he explained, “but they take most of that for health care and so forth. The tax rate is a bit confiscatory.”
So much for cradle to the grave, youngsters.
Those who like old Bernie’s idealism (that’s a polite term) should understand that he has little chance of achieving anything he promises and that if he did this country’s foundation of free enterprise grounded in incentive would disappear. A word to his youthful supporters: All politics should be taken with a healthy dose of skepticism.
Dan Thomasson is a columnist for Tribune News Service and a former vice president of Scripps Howard Newspapers. Readers may send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org.